LINCOLN PARK — For the first time in years, Republican candidates for governor are honing in on the city of Chicago and some say the GOP's Chicago "clubhouse" in Lincoln Park is now a must-stop for any campaign.
The 43rd Ward Republicans already hosted state Sen. Kirk Dillard in mid-September, and this Saturday, the group will host State Treasurer Dan Rutherford for a meeting at 2768 N. Lincoln Ave.
"We matter. City Republicans matter," said Chris Cleveland, Republican Committeeman for the 43rd Ward.
Rutherford says he understands the Chicago vote, and is proud of the 22 percent he received when he ran for treasurer in 2010.
If you don't get 20 percent of Chicago in a statewide election, you won't win the race, according to Rutherford, who pointed to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, who lost after getting only 18 percent of the Chicago vote in the last election.
"People have to look at the numbers," Rutherford said. "I think a lot of the challenges some people have had is how do you do it? How do you campaign Chicago? What do you do?"
Chris Cleveland, Republican Committeeman for the 43rd Ward, hopes to provide some stability for the candidates in the Democratically-dense city with a stop in the 43rd Ward.
"Many years ago, [candidates for governor] did come through and it was kind of a haphazard thing, and now we have all of them coming through," Cleveland said.
The GOP "clubhouse" on Lincoln was opened during the 2012 election cycle and was to serve as a campaign office.
State campaign staffers moved out quickly after that election, but Cleveland and the Chicago Young Republicans have held down the fort and turned it into the de facto North Side Republican base.
"Just having the physical space really lends some credibility to the organization," Cleveland said. "It's all part of the broader resurgence of the GOP."
The 43rd Ward office will host the remaining Republican candidates for governor on the second Saturday of each month.
"The Lincoln Park call center during the 2012 elections was fantastic. I mean huge," said Rutherford, who was chairman of Mitt Romney's campaign in Illinois. "There are a lot of people [in Chicago] who really are Republican who just need a place to gravitate to."
Dillard was the first of the candidates to stop by the office on Sept. 14 and had coffee and doughnuts with about 40 attendees before giving an hourlong speech and opening up to unlimited questions, Cleveland said.
That type of effort was lacking during Brady's run for governor in 2010 when he lost by less than a percentage point to Democrat Pat Quinn.
Unlike the last election, Brady will be making a stop on Dec. 14 to the GOP's Lincoln Park headquarters.
"They've learned their lesson," Cleveland said. "When [this year's candidates] come here I think they are surprised to see a full room."
While Rutherford said stops in the 43rd Ward, the 32nd Ward and other areas with a slightly larger number of Republicans are necessary, he said the key to gaining Republican votes is also getting out in the ethnically diverse parts of the city.
"I've done Syrian radio. I've done Korean television, Polvision [a Polish television network], multiple events in Chinatown," Rutherford said. "The pathway to my success has been Chicago. I see an absolute path to win this."